HomeThe Labor Pillar

The Labor Pillar

Working for what we have

Each student at Deep Springs works at least 20 hours per week in a position assigned by the student Labor Commissioner, or LC. Everyone plays an integral role in keeping our ranch, farm, garden and kitchen going. The exact list of positions varies with the season, the needs of the College, and the plans of the LC. Common positions include: Cook, Baker, BH (cleaning the dishes), Butcher, Cowboy, Dairy (milking cows), Farm (moving irrigation lines), Garden, General Labor Crew, Mechanic’s Assistant, and Orderly. Most positions last for a term—2 months—though some require a greater time commitment.

Participation in labor is not done in exchange for a Deep Springs education. Rather, the labor pillar is an integral part of that education. The labor program allows students to contemplate their role in a community, to practice working hard, and to foster a sense of ownership and integrity/responsibility. Working with live animals that depend upon routine care gives you an opportunity to engage in work that has high stakes. Serving in a kitchen for such a small community, where everybody knows each other intimately, means that everybody knows who is responsible when a meal is out late.

Farm & Ranch

Deep Springs operates a USDA Certified Organic cattle ranch and 150-acre hay farm. The college sells both hay and beef cattle for a modest income, but the ranch and farm are maintained primarily for educational purposes.

The ranch keeps about 200 head of beef cattle which graze throughout the valley and in the White Mountains. With supervision from the ranch manager, students perform much of the necessary ranch work, from herding cattle to shoeing horses to delivering calves. More than a dozen horses are kept for ranch work and recreation. Students receive training in basic horsemanship, and many take advantage of the opportunity to go on frequent horseback rides.

The hay farm is a large part of the student labor program, owing to the work required to irrigate, harvest, and periodically replant the fields. The farm manager trains students to operate and repair irrigation equipment as well as drive the tractors and harvesting machinery. The college has a fleet of trucks, tractors, and farm implements which are maintained on-site by staff and students.

In addition to the hay and cattle operations, pigs, broiler chickens, and laying hens are raised for consumption at the college. A dairy barn with several cows provides the community with milk. Produce is grown in our one-acre vegetable garden and orchard, and greenhouses extend the growing season into the winter. Students often have the opportunity to tackle special short-term agricultural projects based on their own interests.


In addition to the faculty, the Deep Springs is home to a dynamic team of staff and their families who work to make this place run smoothly and pedagogically. The staff is housed either on the main ranch or on a tract of land less than a mile north of the college. They do not, however, constitute a distinct group of employees of the college. The staff is most commonly referred to in combination with the faculty and vice versa as “staffulty.” A Deep Springer is likely to find all members of the community at meals, public speaking, and other community events.

One of the key aspects of the labor pillar is the relationship students build with staff members. Staff members act as mentors and managers, often teaching students how to do the labor in question while also ensuring the continued functioning of the labor operation they supervise.


Tim Gipson

Farm & Ranch Manager. Tim is responsible for the College’s cattle and horse herds, as well as the farm, and the thousands upon thousands of acres of public land on which the ranch operates. His other duties include student Horsemanship Instructor and mentor of the ranch cowboys. He grew up in Ohio working on farms and moved out west shortly after high school. He has worked on some of the largest ranches in the country and he and his wife, Kathryn, ran their own cattle herd in Wyoming for several years. He and Kathryn have been married for 25 years and they have 3 grown boys and one grandson.

Ben Holgate

Garden Manager. Ben was born and raised in Independence, California. His great-grandfather was an electrician for the U.S. Borax company in Boron, California, his grandfather designed the original conveyor system in Boron, and his dad was born in Red Mountain. Ben went into the U.S. Army when he graduated from high school and served in Panama and Iraq. After getting out of the Army he attended college in Oregon, and worked with children. He and his wife, Jane McDonald, met after that when they were both doing labor union work in the Bay area. They made a decision to move back to the Eastern Sierra in 2008 and Ben got involved in community gardening and agriculture. Now, at Deep Springs, with the help of Rita Ross DS21, he is taking over the successful system left by Shelby MacLeish. His passion for land stewardship and food production runs deep and makes Ben very well-suited to to be the College’s new Garden Manager.

Katie Ippolito

Office Manager. Katie came to Deep Springs from the East Coast, having recently completed a Master’s degree in Higher Education Administration at the University of Pennsylvania. Her background is in neuroscience, a subject she pursued during her undergraduate years at Bowdoin College. As much as she loved being in the lab, Katie was even more excited to make information accessible and explore how engaged learning could change people’s lives and their communities for the better. While looking for a job that would allow her to connect with students and envision high-impact paths through higher education, Katie remembered Deep Springs—a college that had stood out to her since high school for its singular approach to thoughtful leadership and service. You can now find her in the Main Building (or grabbing tea from the BH) as she supports ongoing work to make the College run sustainably and inventively for years to come.

Sarah Knight

Boarding House Manager. Sarah Knight has been in the hospitality and restaurant world for almost 15 years, gaining experience in a range of settings from luxury hotels to high-end restaurants. After culinary school and working in the industry for some time, Sarah wanted to see where her food came from. She started a livestock apprenticeship in 2020 where she learned how to raise animals in a regenerative manner. At this time, she also started her journey into animal slaughter and butchery.  Sarah expanded her pursuit of food systems education through UCLA online courses on Environment and Sustainability, and continues to write, read, and learn about the way food reaches our tables. 

John Martindale

Facilities and Grounds Manager. I have lived in Bishop, California most of my life and Deep Springs College is what I consider to be one of the most important institutions that we have in Inyo county.

While raising two wonderful children I have worked to teach them the principles that are at the heart of the college: work hard, have a solid moral compass, and spend time serving others who are less fortunate than you.

I often have sought out the “voice of the desert” when times were tough, and I once again find that peace and tranquility here on the campus. My years in contracting have served me well as this is a job site with such a large variety of tasks that I should never fear boredom.

Ciarán Willis

Operations Manager.  Ciarán was born and raised in Portland, Oregon before studying English Literature at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Over the years, Ciarán has learned a lot from his students and colleagues: he was the Head of Boys Camp at Four Winds Westward Ho camp; he lectured English at the University of Finance and Economics in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia; and he is a faculty member at NOLS, instructing mountaineering, rock climbing, backcountry skiing, and adaptive leadership throughout the Western US and Alaska. More recently Ciarán founded A Place Beyond which created small college campuses in the mountains for students studying online during the pandemic.